Lego has been one of those companies which has been able to grow despite technological changes, which have forced them to often rearrange their entire business model to some degree. Whether it’s their entrance into video games, in order to keep their market share advantage within the toy and games industry, or their adoption of new technology within their production process, they have seemingly been invincible to the changing tides.
3D printing is now threatening to throw another curve ball at the toy industry. Already, kids, with the help of their parents, can 3D print out customized toys, even blocks, in the shape of a Lego. Despite all this, Lego has remained confident that they can continue on their growth trajectory for years to come.
Just last month Lego was awarded a pretty interesting patent, which they filed for back in July of 2013. The patent, number WO 2014005591 A1, is for the 3D printing of plastic on Lego block bases, which have already been molded. Such technology would allow them to customize blocks in a variety of ways. The abstract of this newly awarded patent reads as follow:
“A method for the manufacture of a plastics product (1) and a plastics product (1), which plastics product (1) comprises a first (2) and a second (3) component that are both manufactured completely or partially from moulding plastics, and which first component (2) is manufactured by moulding in a mould, such as by injection moulding, and which second component (3) is made by a process in which it is built in a layer-by-layer fashion, such as by 3D-printing, and having a mounting surface (7); and wherein the first component (2) is ready-moulded and ejected from the mould prior to it being joined with the second component (3) to form the plastics product (1). By the first layer of material formed in the 3D-printing process of manufacturing the second component (3) being formed on a surface having the same shape as the mounting surface (7) of the first component (2), it is enabled to manufacture a product with a high degree of design individuality, while simultaneously parts of the product can be made with very fine tolerances.”
If you combine this recent patent with statements made by Lego’s chief financial officer, John Goodwin, a somewhat clearer picture of Lego’s future comes within sight. Just the other day Goodwin told the Financial Times,
“3D printing is a fascinating development and certainly opens up a lot of new avenues . . . We are looking very intently at it and monitoring it, looking at what potential opportunities there are for consumers.”
Clearly, Lego is excited about the 3D printing angle that their business may soon take. If they were to somehow sell specialized Lego bases, which have patented top surfaces to allow customers to 3D print permanent designs onto, they could fully customize the Lego experience. This would then allow them to sell new bricks, while also adding a custom element to the bricks, driving even more excitement to their products.
Lego’s chief marketing officer, Mads Nipper seems to possibly be on board with this idea as well. In a recent interview with the Financial Times he stated, “It could well be that it might be an exciting opportunity to print your own bricks.”
The toy industry needs to quickly adapt to the technologies that are emerging from all directions. Such a move by Lego would make sense, you would think. Discuss the possible 3D printing of Legos at 3DPrintBoard.